I was pleased with my choice to race the inaugural Blind Pig 100 Mile Ultramarathon as soon as Stephanie and I pulled into the race headquarters on Friday night. The Croft State Park Campground served as race headquarters containing the start/finish line. The course is a nine mile loop I would run eleven times on Saturday, (after a one mile out and back to account the full 100 miles). The tall pines in the campground provided a relaxing atmosphere and the small campground offered a community centered vibe to the event.
I was pretty confident the month before the race allowing recovery in lieu of forcing junk miles. I made sure to get in high quality work on days I felt like it, and on days I felt bad I just took it easy. In turn, I was rested and ready to go run 100 miles on Saturday. Heading to the starting line on Saturday morning I realized my Garmin was dead. Apparently during preparations the night before when I checked to see if I had a full charge I didn't turn it back off. Oops. Oh well. This was now a variable I couldn't control, so I didn't worry about it. I needed to focus on what I could control, and let the things I couldn't control take care of themselves.
Luckily, I packed a spare Garmin, and although it was an older model I would get me through half of the race. (My new model has a battery life that will last the whole duration of the run). Regardless, The most important task of the Garmin falls on regulating heart rate the first half of the race, keeping the pace down, and this would serve that purpose.
I was in heaven with the "pre-race" meeting. I hate those lengthy mandatory meetings with tons of useless info, guest speakers, blah blah blah. The race director of the Blind Pig obviously gets this. There was no meeting the night before the race. The "pre-race" meeting was 5 minutes before the start of the race. AWESOME.
The starting pace was a bit ridiculous, so I didn't concern myself with the pace of other runners in front as it was apparent I would reel them in shortly. After the one mile out and back I was probably somewhere near the tail end of the herd, yet by the end of the second lap of eleven I'm pretty sure I was already in second place. Shuffling along at the same pace insures I don't burn through precious glycogen stores. These folks who went out and lit up that first lap surely paid for it at the tail end...I'm guessing it added about 30% to their overall time. Discipline and patience...
The heat and sun had no problem cutting through the leafless trees. The loop was almost all singletrack. There were two aid station on the course. One at the start/finish line and another a few miles into the loop. This second aid station was only several miles into the loop and so it made for a long trip around to finish the loop. The easiest half of the loop was fortunately after this second aid station which helped pass the time.
The course was hilly and incredibly deceptive. The roots and rocks collectively added to fatigue over the course of the day, and the hills seemed to grow larger and larger as the sun beat down on us. I have a penchant for racing a 100 on the first hot day of the year, in which the mid-80's feels like the upper 90's due to no heat training. On paper this course looks fast, and in the right weather, it could be, but not this year. The heat was a large hurdle to overcome.
I plugged away as effortlessly as possible and made good progress. I kept somewhat even splits and kept control well of the variables I had power over. When I would get negative, I would back off the pace and remind myself that I was in control, not the race. I stayed positive and whenever I got bogged down, I backed off instead of pushing harder.
In a 50 mile race, its fine to push harder, dig deeper into the pain cave, but midway through a 100 mile run you can't do this. Its too long. You have to constantly readjust, refocus, stay comfortable, stay happy. 100's are almost boring in this regard. It's an exercise in patience and discipline the first half. Then the second half is an exercise in pushing yourself to slog through the miles with dead legs and no energy. Fun right?!
I didn't concern myself with pace or time. I know this is futile. You can only do what you can do. Ambiguous right? Redundant right? But True. You can't get wrapped in dreams of a PR and a time goal if you want to run the best race possible. You have to focus on even pacing for that day.
Nearing the half way point at mile 50, I was on pace for a 16 hour finish. The half-way point however, occurred at 4:00 PM, the hottest part of the day and the heat had yet to take its full effects. Upon signing up, I was hoping this race could potentially yield a new personal record. I've been trying to beat my time from the 2012 Umstead of 15:27 for over a year now. It'll happen eventually, but it is going to have to be a special day in which the triad of temperatures, course conditions, and fitness align perfectly.
After the 50 split, I had yet to wear my iPod and was really focusing on each lap, maintaining good form. I was wholly focused on the course and didn't want distractions.
I was experimenting with new nutrition in the form of Ensure. I was chugging a 250 calorie bottle each lap at the start/finish and would eat Clif gels and Clif Bloks while out on the course. My stomach was solid and even in the heat no nausea or gastric issues presented. I decided to ride this train until something drastic happened, although it never did. I kept the exact same intake the entire day with no issues. Knock on wood, this makes 2 full years of zero nausea or diarrhea during a 100 miler.
Near mile 75 I began to fall apart mentally and grow fatigued. It was about 9:00 pm and this is my "usual bedtime". Yeah, I'm an early bird.
I was tempted to drop down upon completion of this ninth lap. I was still in second place overall and upon finishing the lap I was at mile 82. This race also had a simultaneous 100K option, (62 miles), and my 100K split was fast enough that I would have won the 100K had I decided to bail on the 100 mile finish and take the 100K.
I didn't have a pacer to get me through the tough patch, and the thoughts of being out on the course for another 6 hours seemed overwhelming, but I knew thinking about the long night ahead spelled complete disaster if I hoped to finish. In a 100 mile run you can ONLY think about the immediate goals. Baby steps. Get one more lap done. Get to the next aid station. With any big goal, you can only think in incremental tasks, otherwise the daunting feat ahead can overwhelm the pursuant.
I kept thinking about my running clients... What kind of example was I setting if I dropped? I dropped at mile 70 in the Pinhoti 100 in 2012 and vowed to never do it again. I chumped out and saved myself from 5 hours of absolute physical and mental agony and in turn have spent years regretting my DNF there. It was a valuable lesson and I vowed to never quit a race again realizing how terrible it felt to quit.
During the climax of torture 75 miles into a 100 mile run, you don't care anymore. You can legitimately justify quitting. It all becomes so obvious. However, having lived through the ramifications of retrospective self punishment, I know the only choice is to forge on and suffer through the mental and physical annihilation because it will all be over in a few hours and the guilt of quitting lasts on forever.
After finishing lap 9 at mile 82 I told my crew, Stephanie, and I friend I often race with Jonathan Allen that I was feeling rough. My laps previously were all under three hours and lap 9 was almost 3 hours! I was falling apart. I had a great season and this was my seventh race in as many months. I could drop down and win the 100K and I was OK with it all. I didn't want to quit but I was fried. They promptly said this was not an option and I didn't fight. I knew sitting down would be the death of me, and so with haste I immediately exited the start/finish line and decided to fight on, holding on to second place in the 100 miler.
I was emblazoned with passion heading out on lap ten of eleven. I knew that I would finally complete a 100 mile run without a pacer. In all my other runs I've used a pacer who picks me up the last half or quarter of the race and I can just zone out and rely on them to get me through it. I didn't have a pacer at Pinhoti and I quit. My tenth lap wrapped up very quickly. I had another high moment and Stephanie was shocked to see me finish the lap in under two hours coming through the Aid at the Start/Finish with a "Whoop Whooop!". Only one lap to go!
I paid for the fast pace of the tenth lap during the first half of my final lap but I recovered for a good final few miles.
I finished in 2nd overall, but the placement was irrelevant to me. I was proud to stick it out and finish and win mentally.